Los Angeles Theater Review: AND THEN THEY FELL (Brimmer Street Theatre Company)

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by Jason Rohrer on September 23, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


Brimmer St. Theatre Co. only puts up a play when it thinks it’s got one worth doing, and always one that it has developed in-house. Some years it doesn’t produce anything but readings. This seems to me a better plan than that of many companies that fill ten slots a year with whatever they think they can sell. Right now, Brimmer St. is offering a show the box office proceeds of which will be donated to a homeless shelter. On its behalf, the theater accepts donations of clothing etc. at the door.

sollenberger-faith-imafidonAn artistic collective that exists to serve its community performs an undeniable social good. How big a practical service it provides is a question finite and quantifiable. The question of aesthetic service is a more subjective one. I prefer plays entirely unlike And Then They Fell, Tira Palmquist’s new teen drama that plays like an old afterschool special. It opens by introducing characters of whom you’ve met better-defined versions elsewhere, in situations you’ve seen better illustrated before, in a story decorated with the kind of half-realized thematic imagery that never quite achieves poetry or poignancy. Within five minutes, an attentive 21st Century American can predict every plot point in the next hour and a half. You know who’s going to do what, and you know why, and you know how, and you know when. There is a big audience for this kind of predictability. But that audience mostly watches television, which is where Palmquist seems to have gotten most of her ideas.

getpartAt least, that’s where I’ve seen them before: The child of an incarcerated mother is abused by a male authority figure; the family and the state fail a child with a nontraditional sexuality, who ends up homeless; together, the two runaways find hope and love, only to wind up tangled in a pedestrian murder that would be tragic if it had any resonance outside its tiny, tidy insularity. On the 10 O’Clock News, you can see stories just like this, with exactly this much attention to a larger relevance.

On a stage, I think more is required. A linear A-to-B narrative does not in itself constitute a story. The conventional application, C, transcends the described events with some artistic expression. I appreciate a sense of inevitability in a drama, as long as there’s a revelation. I can seeOedipus a hundred times, with a female Oedipus, a black Oedipus, a paraplegic Oedipus, a gay Oedipus, and the show can still give me the shocks and surprises it gave Athens. And Then They Fell will not surprise anyone. I don’t think it’s trying. I don’t know what it’s trying to do except remind its audience that social injustice exists. It is therefore less play than sermon, and so it defeats the purpose of using costumes and dialogue and furniture. The sole fix to the problems it describes: Be a better parent.


Amy K. Harmon directs as if trying to match the obtuseness of the writing. She sets her actors mostly in a line, often with the high-status adult standing and the powerless child seated. Characters scream a lot, and sometimes they fall down. At the third-weekend performance I saw, the double-cast actors were all good, though some of them couldn’t be heard in the second row. Only a couple were able to find nuance and definition. The major characters present exactly as written, bluntly, not to say inartistically. As swing players, Jaquita Ta’le has the most variety to play, and Ben Fuller especially makes his minor roles into major assets.


Katrina Coulourides’ set dumps most of the too-numerous locations out in a black-box netherworld while devoting detailed realism to a living room used a couple of times and otherwise half-hidden behind a scrim. This makes the “home” upstage into an unreachable Emerald City floating above a cold, rainy Oz. Unwieldy as it is, this is probably the most effective achievement in the show. Part of this awkward playing space detaches to roll downstage on occasion but offers no particular advantage in the delineation of locale. Andy Bromell’s video design realizes a bird motif interesting enough to look at, but projections cannot rewrite the lines that inspired them.


Brimmer St. executive director David Jette told me that after the nonprofit company fell in love with the play, it rejected the idea of exploiting, for gain, the trauma of unfortunate kids. This sense of civic responsibility led to the idea of sending the receipts, entire, to an appropriate local charity called My Friend’s Place. I see in this not a gimmick but a solution. Brimmer St. is a theater, so a play is the logical manner for it to provide its service. We do what good we can. I wrote this.


photos by Michelle Risucci

And Then They Fell
Brimmer Street Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave in Atwater
for tickets, call 617.953.8544 or visit Brimmer Street

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